Hugh Hefner has died at the age of 91, and the Playboy founder is being heralded as a kitsch – if certainly problematic – heterosexual icon.
While any celebration of Hefner should be tempered, given allegations of manipulation from his ex-partner Holly Madison, his contribution in the fight for civil rights, including LGBT rights, should also be acknowledged.
As well as naked pictures of women, Playboy often published short stories from significant authors, including science fiction masters.
One such story published in the 1955 – The Crooked Man by Charles Beaumont – explored the idea of heterosexuals being persecuted in a society dominated by homosexuals.
The story sparked a backlash, but Hefner said in response: “If it was wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society, then the reverse was wrong too.”
He said years later that Esquire had turned down the story before Playboy opted to publish it.
As a swinger in the 1960s, Hefner himself experimented in bisexuality and once said: “Without question, love in its various permutations is what we need more of in this world.”
For Hefner, a celebration of sexuality meant a celebration of all types of sexuality, and suppression of LGBT rights was a suppression of the sexual revolution that he fought for.
In 2012, Hefner wrote an editorial in the September issue of Playboy outlining his support for same-sex marriage.
“The fight for gay marriage is, in reality, a fight for all of our rights,” he said.
“Without it, we will turn back the sexual revolution and return to an earlier, puritanical time.
“Today, in every instance of sexual rights falling under attack, you’ll find legislation forced into place by people who practice discrimination disguised as religious freedom.
“Their goal is to dehumanize everyone’s sexuality and reduce us to using sex for the sole purpose of perpetuating our species. To that end, they will criminalize your entire sex life.”
The AIDS crisis had a massive impact on the sexual revolution and on Hefner.
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Playboy discussed HIV/AIDS and safer sex at a time when many were dismissing the disease as the “gay plague”.
“The only thing ‘wrong’ with AIDS is the way our government responded to it. They are culpable on many, many levels,” he told The Advocate.
“I have chosen every aspect of human sexuality – and the discrimination that goes along with some of those aspects – as my major concern.
“Homosexuality and, later, the homophobia that surrounds the AIDS crisis are part of a much bigger picture for me.”
A 2009 documentary looked at Hefner’s gay rights activism.
Hefner also inspired some to imitate him during his life, as earlier this year a priest stimulated sex with male Playboy bunnies while dressed the star.
Juan Carlos Martínez, parish priest for the town of Cuntis, Spain, was celebrating a local carnival when he donned the outfit.
He posed on a float dressed as elderly Playboy millionaire Hefner, wearing a dressing gown, captain’s cap and cigar.
The priest was sandwiched between two men in black leotards, stockings and a barely-there netting skirt and topped off with bunny ears over colourful wigs.